- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2000

Bill Bradley is expected to abandon his presidential bid today and endorse Vice President Al Gore while Sen. John McCain, the other big loser on Super Tuesday, canceled planned events amid signs his presidential campaign is nearing an end.
McCain spokesman Todd Harris said reporters should expect "a major announcement about our campaign" today. Aides said Mr. McCain, who spent the day holed up at his ranch near Sedona, Ariz., had no public schedule after today.
Mr. McCain had been expected to announce he is quitting the race after losing all major primary states Tuesday, but sources close to the candidate say he plans to announce he is suspending his campaign pending further review of his options.
All signs pointed to a McCain exit temporary or permanent from the race. Aides said campaign events scheduled in Colorado and Illinois, which hold primaries in the next two weeks, had been canceled. More to the point, the large press contingent traveling with Mr. McCain was being sent to Phoenix after the news conference without Mr. McCain.
Mr. McCain is considering issuing a "manifesto" stating the principles at the core of his reformist campaign, according to a Republican source close to both Mr. McCain and Rep. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and staunch McCain supporter who met with the Arizona senator at his ranch yesterday.
Mr. McCain hopes to introduce the manifesto at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia this summer, the source said.
McCain campaign political director John Weaver, along with some supporters, are urging Mr. McCain to seek a run as an independent or third-party presidential candidate. The possibility he might do that provides leverage over the Bush campaign and the Republican establishment.
But in a meeting yesterday with Mr. Graham, Mr. McCain "made it clear" that he is not considering bolting the Republican Party, the Republican source told The Washington Times.
Meanwhile, Bradley aides told The Washington Times the former New Jersey senator's announcement would come at an 11 a.m. news conference. The aides said Mr. Bradley would announce his withdrawal today and throw his support to the vice president.
They declined, however, to explain how Mr. Bradley who spent much of his campaign denouncing Mr. Gore as a lying, flip-flopping, closet conservative who should not be entrusted with the presidency would paper over his differences with the vice president.
The news of Mr. Bradley's planned withdrawal gave Mr. Gore a "Super Wednesday" on the heels of his Super Tuesday rout of Mr. Bradley, in which he won all 16 primaries and caucuses. But the vice president refrained from declaring a time of healing for the riven Democratic Party until after Mr. Bradley's formal announcement today.
For Mr. McCain, the decision last night to make a "major announcement" marked a change in plans.
The campaign has already spent almost $200,000 on ads in Colorado and the aides said after his drubbing by Texas Gov. George W. Bush that Mr. McCain still planned to fly there today after the strategy session.
Mr. McCain had hoped to rebound in Colorado, but the state is a stronghold of Christian conservatives, who are hardly fans of Mr. McCain. The Arizona senator rebuked religious leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell last week, calling them "forces of evil."
Mr. McCain faces a virtually impossible comeback. He trails in delegates 617-231 with 1,034 needed to nominate. An additional 91 delegates are stake in Western states tomorrow, and 351 more on March 14 in states across the South, the part of the country where Mr. Bush is strongest.
During the strategy session, a senior aide to Mr. McCain said a list of possible options had been prepared for his meetings during the day. Those included staying in the race to further his political reform agenda, getting out and supporting the GOP ticket, and leaving to mount a third-party bid.
Mr. McCain has said previously he would not leave the GOP, and the adviser said he had no reason to believe the senator had changed his mind.
As chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Mr. McCain has a powerful incentive to not to bolt and go independent.
"He would cripple himself in the Senate and destroy any chance to run for president as a Republican in 2004, if Bush doesn't win, or in 2008," said Tom Rath, a Bush supporter and former New Hampshire attorney general.
"It cuts off more options for McCain than it creates," he said.
Richard Quinn, a South Carolina Republican campaign strategist, said he has "received not even an inkling from the McCain camp that he is considering a third-party run. They say there is no chance of that."
Republicans aides said there had been discussions about how to ease McCain's return to the Senate after a campaign in which he often attacked his own party as beholden to special interests.
Like most McCain supporters, Mr. Quinn would like to see Mr. Bush name Mr. McCain as his running mate. Republican campaign adviser Frank Luntz eagerly seconds the idea. "A Bush-McCain ticket would be pretty powerful," he said.
While Mr. Bush appealed to Mr. McCain's desire, often stated on the campaign, to deny Mr. Gore the White House, he hastened to add he wasn't extending an offer of the vice-presidential spot on his ticket.
Mr. Bradley, 56, also said he has no interest in the vice-presidential spot on the Democratic ticket.
Although the vice president has toned down his criticism of Mr. Bradley in recent weeks as the Democratic challenger's campaign has sputtered, yesterday marked the first time that Mr. Gore completely abandoned those attacks and turned all his energies against Mr. Bush. Borrowing a page from Mr. McCain's playbook, the vice president tried to tie Mr. Bush to the most conservative elements of the Republican Party.
"Pat Robertson was the first face I saw on the TV screens across America last night, trumpeting Governor Bush's victory," Mr. Gore said. "I think that the extreme right, the National Rifle Association, have really had a big influence on Governor Bush's positions."
Although the vice president had frequently branded Mr. McCain as a right-wing extremist, he is now stressing his common ground with the maverick senator in an unapologetic play for the support of centrist voters. Mr. Gore even likened his illegal fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple to Mr. McCain's entanglement in the "Keating Five" savings and loan scandal.
"Like John McCain, I bring the lessons from personal experience to a strong commitment to change this system," Mr. Gore said during a TV interview in Nashville. "The cause of campaign finance reform is an extremely important one. That is the banner that I will carry in this campaign."
Mr. Gore hopes that by taking the offensive on the campaign finance issue, he can limit Mr. Bush's ability to exploit this vice-presidential vulnerability. In an effort to divert attention away from the recent conviction of his Buddhist temple fund-raiser, Maria Hsia, Mr. Gore yesterday challenged Mr. Bush once again to forgo "soft money" for the rest of the campaign.
Mr. Bush, during an interview on CNN, shot back that he might be willing to ban soft money if the vice president would enact "paycheck protection" for union workers whose dues are spent on political causes.
Mr. Gore also hammered Mr. Bush over a TV ad campaign that criticized Mr. McCain's environmental record. The ads were funded by wealthy Bush backers in Texas, although the governor said there was no coordination with his campaign.
"Let's make an agreement that we'll jointly call on all the broadcasters to not run any secretly funded independent expenditures of the kind that were brought in to influence the New York and California and Ohio primaries at the last minute on the Republican side," Mr. Gore said.

Mr. Hallow reported from Washington; Mr. Sammon from Nashville, Tenn.; Mr. Scully from Los Angeles for this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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